Couple days ago, I published my 100th article, so I feel like it's time for reflections - looking at how I got there, what I learned along the way and whether it was actually worth the time and effort. As well as some thoughts on whether you should try writing too.
Writing - especially when it comes to technical content, which requires research, writing and testing code, etc. - takes a lot of time. In my opinion, you can't realistically produce useful content on a daily basis, even if it was your full-time job.
Therefore, writing 10, 50, 100 or more articles, requires - first and foremost - consistency (and maybe some persistence/stubbornness). At some point, I decided that I would publish an article twice a month, roughly on 1st and 15th of any given month. This self-imposed deadline forced me to actually dedicate some time to writing and as an added benefit - forced me to study and learn new things, otherwise I wouldn't have things to write about.
Speaking of "things to write about", I thought I would run out of ideas pretty quickly, yet here we're. With that being said, choosing and finding topic sometimes requires more time and effort than actually writing the article itself.
One easy way to create content is to just document whatever you're working on - your future self will thank you for it (and maybe a random stranger on the internet will too). Obviously you can't just publish random bullet points or "brain dump" - you have to make your notes into coherent text, that others will understand. I like to approach it as: "If I were to read this 2 years from know, would I understand it?", and you know what? - I often do! I oftentimes go back to articles I wrote 2 years ago to copy some piece of code or to recall details of something I have long forgotten.
If you're starting out, another easy option is to react to other articles - you don't have to come up with your own original idea, but you can still add to the discussion. Take some viral article (e.g. top post from HackerNews), split it into sections/paragraphs and write your opinion/rebuttal to each of them. This obviously requires you to be expert/knowledgeable in the topic you are reacting to.
How I Write
Writing isn't just time-consuming, but also generally, just difficult. So, over the years, I accumulated a couple rules and cues to make it easier and more straightforward for myself.
If you're going to write technical content - try to explain things in the least amount of words possible. People click on your article to get information, not to read a novel. Don't look at the "read time" or word count of your post. Writing short, succinct, yet understandable piece should be the goal.
Also, it's best to write from experience. Such content comes out more natural and flows better. Also, chances are, you're not the only one with that same (or opposite) experience or opinion, therefore your readers are more likely to identify with what you write about, which in turn makes them more likely to engage (comment).
Obviously, you don't have to write from experience, you can find a topic and "just" write about it, but the content will feel/sound forced and will not get as much traffic.
Finally, if you struggle to find topic or idea to write about, then you can use following writing cues - try asking yourself:
- What do you find yourself explaining to coworkers?
- What are you the go-to "source" for?
- What are you "expert" in?
- What strong opinion do you hold?
These are the things that will be the easiest to write about and also most likely to produce something useful.
For more blogging advice I would recommend reading following posts by Julia Evans:
And I also recommend book called Everybody Writes, 2nd Edition for general writing advice.
Is It Worth It?
The most important questions is though - is it actually worth it to spend so much time writing and publishing articles? - and I think, yes.
There are couple reasons for that:
- For me, it's mostly about learning - writing regularly forces me to learn new things, which I would be too lazy to do otherwise. Writing also forces you to understand the particular topic better and reinforces what you already know.
- In case of technical articles, they also serve as documentation - you could just make couple bullet points about what you're learning, but without making it into proper article, coming back to it, week, month or year later, you wouldn't be able to decipher what past-you meant.
- I also receive a lot of feedback (including shitty, non-constructive, unsolicited feedback and advice), which I mostly ignore (sorry, not sorry) for my own mental health. With that said, everytime you share your opinion, someone will try to tell you that you're wrong. And sometimes they're right, so you learn something!
- Also, after writing a lot, I, well... became better at writing. That's obviously subjective, but you can take a look at one of my old articles and some recent ones and judge for yourself.
- And finally, from time-to-time I get message/email saying that my article helped someone or soled their problem - "thank you" messages don't exactly pay my rent, but it does feel good, and it gives a tiny bit of motivation to continue writing.
One other way to judge whether it was worth my time is some metrics. I don't really want to go into details, but in case you're thinking about writing here's what you might realistically expect:
Aggregated, all my articles on Medium average 30,000+ views a month, with peak of ~250,000 in October 2020. On my personal website, I average around 50,000 per month.
Apart from raw views, there are also 500+ email subscribers (100 on Medium, 400 on my website) and ~500 RSS feed subs (based on Feedly).
Well, is it a lot? Is it very little? I don't know, but I'm OK spending time writing articles if this many people read it.
Also, you shouldn't focus on traffic when writing articles. Low traffic doesn't necessarily mean that an article is bad, maybe it's just niche content that many people won't read, and that's fine. My articles also range from 250,000 views to as little as 500, and that's OK.
When I first started writing, I thought I didn't have enough expertise and that no-one would read it, but turns out, at least the second part wasn't true.
I do believe that anyone can write content, and everyone has knowledge and expertise to share something useful.
It can be scary at first, but you stop giving a damn pretty quickly - "What's the worst that can happen?" - No one's going to read your content? No harm done. You still learned something in the process, so that's win anyway.
So if you're thinking about writing and publishing something, then stop thinking and actually do it. Just write a single article and see what happens, maybe it will become a hobby, a side hustle, or at very least a learning experience. 😉